Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 18, 2013

61st District Baseball Preview: Keeping up with the Panthers

District foes are ready to dethrone defending champ Fleming Co.

For The Independent

MOREHEAD — The Baseball Writers Association of America has never unanimously inducted a player on the first ballot to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

How in the name of curveballs does that compare to Kentucky's 61st District? It’s this: the coaches at four-time defending champion Fleming County, Menifee County and Rowan County can't, don't or won’t agree on a favorite to dethrone the Panthers.

Fleming County (17-14) is the only 61st team with a winning record last year, but Rowan County’s Jason Davis responded quicker than an Aroldis Chapman fastball when he was asked to pick a winner.

“Our district is definitely a toss-up,” Davis said.

Bath County’s Brock Baber didn't opine much, either.

“I’m not going to say,” Baber said. “I think we have a good opportunity for us to challenge (Fleming County).”

Fleming County coach Blake Price, meanwhile, is excited about his team's prospects.

“We lost a couple seniors that were big contributors, but we think we’re going to be as competitive,” Price said. “We’ve got most of our pitching back from last year, actually 90 percent of our pitching back from last year.

“We’re going to be relying on a lot of young kids, a lot of sophomores who are unproven. I think we’ve got a pretty talented bunch; I look for us to be probably as good offensively as long as I’ve been the coach.”

It especially helps Price that senior Desmond McAdams — a four-year pitcher who won last year's district title game against Rowan County — returns as the No. 1 starter. “He throws mostly just a fastball (and) curveball, and he has a little changeup, too,” Price said. “He has good command of his pitches, good control, good velocity.”

When McAdams isn’t pitching, Price will likely look to junior Taylor Muse and sophomore Quinton Humphries. McAdams and junior second baseman Brett Fawns are considered the top two returning hitters.

“(Fawns) is more of a finesse hitter,” Price said. “He’s going to be somebody that hits it in the gap and legs out a double or triple occasionally.”

Fleming County’s baseball team can also resemble the basketball Panthers who won the 16th Region crown: McAdams, junior catcher Brady Saunders and junior infielder/outfielder Bryson McKee are back. Joining them is senior third baseman Cameron Dailey.

Davis is also relearning about what might be the three most feared letters in sports: ACL. As in anterior cruciate ligament, one of four that connects knee bones, which, when torn, typically keeps a player off the field for months.

Rowan County (12-24 in 2012) has been hit hardest. Junior Tyler Thacker’s season is already done because of a torn ACL during the Vikings’ 16th Region basketball tournament loss to Fleming County, and junior pitcher Alex Cecil is also out with a torn ACL.

“I know as well as anybody does that one player doesn’t make a team, but (Thacker's) a very important piece of the puzzle that we’ll miss,” Davis said. “He was going to be our probable No. 1 (starting pitcher), our starting shortstop and probable No. 3 or No. 4 hitter.”

As for Cecil: “He’s out for the year, possibly for his career because he may have to have another surgery on his (right) knee.”

As if losing Thacker and Cecil weren’t bad enough, first baseman Tanner Hopson is out until at least late April with a back injury. But Davis is not overly anxious because senior catcher/first baseman Jordan Cornett (who will attend Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., next year) and senior center fielder/shortstop Harold Chapman are healthy.

“We’ve got some adversity,” Davis said. “But, you know what, adversity's only going to make us stronger, we’re just going to take who we’ve got healthy and just get after it.”

Bath County struggled through a 9-19 nightmare last year, at least partly because senior pitcher Cable Wright missed the season with a torn ACL, and senior catcher South Whitt — who plans to attend Brown University on an academic scholarship — was down with ACL and meniscus tears.

Baber said Wright and Whitt are back, along with senior pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Clark Kissick and junior infielder/outfielder Jordan Highley.

“We’ve got so many guys so similar in ability,” Baber said. “It’s a good thing for me to have.”

Menifee County had no seniors and just two juniors — catcher/pitcher Alex Ramsey and pitcher/infielder Seth Brewer — on last year's 1-24 team. Ramsey and Brewer are seniors now, along with senior pitcher/infielder/infielder Zack Cox. Joining them are junior outfielders Mark Clemons and Chris Collinsworth, freshman infielder Paul Ingram, sophomore Tom Ingram, junior infielder Trevor Rose and eighth-grade infielder/outfielder Eric Smith.